What Is Forgiveness?

Let's talk about one of the most important keys to your happiness. It is a subject people talk about, but few understand or practice. Let's talk about forgiving others who have hurt you.

There's probably not a person in the world who does not need to forgive someone. Additionally, there is probably not one person who would ever say that forgiveness is easy. Forgiving others goes against our own common sense. There's an old saying: Don't get mad, get even. Yet forgiveness says, don't get mad, forgive.

To add to the challenge of forgiving, is the fact that most people do not understand what real forgiveness is and how to do it. Forgiveness is giving up your rights to get even.

I recently talked to a girl who was abused by her stepmother for five years. Her father stood by and basically did nothing while this stepmother did terribly cruel things to this 16-year-old girl. She told me she felt scarred for life and could never forgive what her stepmother and father had done to her. How sad that for the rest of her life she will let herself be stuck in constant bitterness, fear, shame and hate. I told her that learning to forgive those who hurt you will be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. But if you want to be happy, you must learn the art of forgiving. Every meaningful relationship you have will require some level of forgiveness at one point or another.

What is forgiveness?

According to the American Psychological Association: Forgiveness is the mental and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.

I love what author Lewis B. Smedes said about forgiveness: "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." There is no way to get away from our past and its effects on us. We can learn from it, but we can't escape from it. We may forget it, but we can't erase it. The only thing that can release us from the insane grip of a painful past is forgiveness. In fact, not to forgive is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die. Forgiveness sets others free, but mostly, frees us.


1. Giving up your rights to get even. Brittany described it well: "To me forgiving somebody is to put something in the past and forget about it no matter what it is. For example, when I was 8 up until I was about 10 or 11 my dad totally ignored me when my mom and him got divorced because he married another woman. At that age I didn't understand it but when I was older, he divorced her. When my mom took me to meet him, to let him see how bad he was hurting me, he asked me to forgive him. So, I did, and I won't hold it against him now because we all wanted to forget about it. Now I see him whenever I want to, no questions asked. I could have easily not forgiven him and never seen him again. But that's forgiveness and everybody deserves a second chance."

2. Choosing to stop feeling anger and resentment. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of bitterness while also letting out the hurt in a positive way. When we are hurt by someone, some awful feelings can come over us at a moment's notice. Out of the blue sky we feel deep resentment, hurt, anger, and even bitterness and rage toward the other person. Forgiveness says, I refuse to babysit those horrible emotions. I understand they are toxic and can only hurt me. So, I will not sit and sulk. I will pray out, talk out, write out, and cry out these emotions until they no longer control me.

3. Letting all judgments toward the person who has hurt you be handled by God. Forgiveness also means to let all judgments toward the person who has hurt you be handled by God. No one gets away with violating and deeply hurting others without some kind of consequence. But it's not up to you to determine what that consequence should be. This much we do know: whoever has hurt you, has paid, is paying, and will pay, for their crime against you. Forgiveness is choosing to stop feeling anger and resentment to the person who hurt you, but letting out your hurt in a positive way.

4. Getting to the place where you can say, "I wish for you a blessing." I want to encourage you to do what CJ did: "I grew up without my parents and was raised by my grandparents in a Christian environment. I had to forgive my parents for abandonment. I had to forgive their ignorance. I had to forgive all they had done to my family. I believe forgiveness is the most powerful thing if you need to mend a broken relationship. You forgive that person although they destroyed you, manipulated you or someone you love. That's what Jesus did, and I wish everyone else did too. The world would be so much better. "Fortunately, she says she was able to forgive her parents, but that probably will never take away the memories that were caused by their neglect. Miraculously, a person can actually get to the place where they can say to the person who has hurt them, "I wish you a blessing. "Which means, I hope all will go well with you and you will have a great life. It is only when we get to this point that we are truly practicing forgiveness.

5. It is normal and right to feel anger toward someone who has hurt you. But hanging onto the hurt and choosing not to forgive the other person is only setting yourself up for a life of pain and difficulty. You have a choice. Please do not give up in your journey to forgive those who have hurt you. The consequences of not forgiving far outweigh the work it takes to give up your rights to get even.

For more on how to forgive and why it’s so important for you to forgive, download TheHopeLine’s free eBook.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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